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Haines Shoe House

As you head west down Route 30 through York County, around the small town of Hallam, you’ll catch sight of a building that’s enough to make you swerve out of your lane. It’s enough to make you wonder what on earth was going through the mind of the person who built it. It’s a giant shoe with three levels of ornate windows, standing next to a tiny doghouse, also shaped like a shoe. This is the Haines Shoe House, the brainchild of the most single-minded shoe salesman in Pennsylvania —Mahlon Haines.

Haines arrived in York County in 1905 on a bicycle, getting as far away from his native Ohio as he could. He was nursing a broken heart from a broken engagement—but he was not the kind of man to mope about it. Instead, he hocked the engagement ring and used the proceeds to buy ten pairs of shoes. He sold these at a modest profit and bought twelve pairs—and over the next forty years, he parlayed that rejected ring into an empire of forty shoe stores throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland. Haines gloried in self-promotion—he styled himself “Colonel” before the fried chicken guy, and kept a herd of bison near one of his shoe stores to attract the attention of passersby. With his keen eye for a good marketing campaign, Haines hit upon a new gimmick in 1947, when he handed an old boot to an architect and said, “Build me a house like this.”

The result was a three-bedroom house with kitchen and dining room, and the unheard-of luxury of two indoor bathrooms. The 48-foot long, 25-foot tall house stands five levels high, with stained glass windows on three levels—most of them showing shoes. Ever the self-promoter, one window features Haines himself, holding up two shoes, with the legend “the Shoe Wizard”.

But Haines didn’t stop at building a roadside attraction. Like Milton Hershey, he wanted to give back to the community, so he offered a week’s free accommodation at the shoe house to newlyweds and the elderly. Each morning, a maid would bring breakfast to the visitors, and each evening, a chauffeur drove them to a restaurant. Haines

covered all expenses—and got fantastic publicity into the bargain.

Since Haines died in 1962, the house been several things—an ice cream parlor, a museum, and a bed and breakfast—but it’s always been an attraction. The current owner kept its doors open to the public after she bought it in 2004, so next time you’re down Hallam way, you can see the Shoe Wizard window for yourself. Don’t forget to wipe your feet before you go in.

You can read more about all of Pennsylvania’s other uniquely Personalized Properties in Weird Pennsylvania.

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